The Brady Bunch and the ‘Primal Wounds’ Caused by Divorce
The recently announced split of Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen is a call to pray for the innocent victims of divorce and it brings to mind John Paul II’s urgent plea: ‘We cannot surrender to the divorce mentality’
Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen — this is one celebrity couple that always seemed impervious to the D-word. Gisele always appearing happily cheering on Tom the many years he played quarterback for the New England Patriots — and when he announced his retirement earlier this year after playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the Brady bunch seemed to be sailing off into the sunset with their kids in tow. Such an image offering a glimmer of hope to those walking the fine line between family and fame.
Media reports conjecture the divorce was spurned by Brady’s change of heart about retiring. After 22 seasons, Brady announced in February that he would be leaving professional football, only to change his mind two months later and play another season for the Buccaneers.
The quarterback and the supermodel have two children — Benjamin, 12, and Vivian, 9. Soon after the couple started dating, Brady's ex-girlfriend, Bridget Moynahan, announced she was pregnant with his son. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Bündchen said that it wasn't easy. "We were dating two and a half months when he found out, and it was a very challenging situation. Obviously, in the beginning, it’s not the ideal thing.”
But the couple, both baptized Catholic, persevered and were married on Feb. 26, 2009, at St. Monica Catholic Church in California. Thirteen years later, Brady took to social media to announce, “In recent days, my wife and I finalized our divorce from one another after 13 years of marriage.” He went on to say they “arrived at this decision amicably and with gratitude for the time we spent together.”
But last week, the story changed, with Brady saying he didn’t want his children to have “divorced parents,” highlighting the impact such a decision has on children.
As Catholics, we know that divorce is always tragic but even more so considering the trauma that children endure in the process. Divorce can inflict so many “primal wounds” in children who get lost in the shuffle and selfishness of divorce.
Catholic author Leila Miller in her book, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, offer insights into this vulnerable world these children grow up in, without any support or lifeline.
Speaking to the Register, Miller emphasized the fact that there “is almost complete silence on the issue of the suffering of the children of divorce, and even decades later, the children of divorce are expected to remain silent about their pain.”
Although self-help groups abound for all sorts of issues and social ills, children of divorce are often left to suffer alone. “We give a voice to every other suffering group out there,” Miller told the Register, “but the tens of millions of children of divorce are still barely allowed a whisper.”
And it’s even greater than the pain and loss children feel when their parents split. Brad Wilcox of the National Marriage Project told the Register that families that stay together actually thrive in every way. “Kids are much more likely to flourish economically, socially, and spiritually if they are raised in a stably married home,” Wilcox noted, adding, “Such a home gives them more money, more stability, and more confidence in the reality of love and faith.”
On the other end of the spectrum, according to these authors, children who grow up in a divorced household often struggle with depression, struggle in their own personal relationships, and as adults, are more likely to end their own marriages by divorce. Children grow up anxious, with low self-esteem, and not feeling “whole.”
The culture these days seems to be setting up most couples for failure. The sacrament of marriage and parenting have been devalued. The hashtag #adulting is a common thing to see on social media, many times tethered to things like helping kids with homework, as if being a mom or dad are roles that can be picked up or set aside.
And not everything is a fairy tale.
“Too many parents don’t seem to understand that family life entails a measure of suffering,” Wilcox told the Register. “And they don’t appreciate that suffering actually engenders meaning in our lives.”
Marriages may have rough patches and things that have to be worked out together as a couple. But to become one of the beautiful stories of couples celebrating their golden anniversaries, marriage must be understood as a vocation.
“The Christian life is the Way of the Cross. Christ tells us to lay down our lives for others, and this death to self is accomplished via our vocations,” Miller said. “Marriage is about self-sacrifice, not self-fulfillment, but sadly we now believe the inverse.”
What advice is there for children who are suffering from divorce? Miller tells those she speaks that “an injustice has been done to them.” She then lets them know “that they can still love and forgive their parents while also not being ‘okay’ with the destruction of their family.”
And to parents considering divorce, Wilcox says:
If you love your kids, don’t get divorced — unless there is a huge problem, like domestic violence or drug abuse. Find a way to work things out. Your kids will be much more likely to flourish. And most married couples who stick it out are able to work through spells of unhappiness.
Miller points to the fact that kids are always clued into what is going on between their parents. “The children are watching how you love (or reject) the person who is literally half of themselves,” she said. “If we kick our ‘one-flesh’ spouse to the curb when they become unlovable or make us unhappy, our children will know that love is conditional for them, too.”
Taking divorce off the table is the first step in dealing with a crisis in marriage. “Instead, let your children see you love your spouse the way Christ loves us: through good and bad, in sickness and health, until our very death,” Miller said adding, “God will never fail us when we love as Christ loves.”
As Pope St. John Paul II said, '“We cannot surrender to the divorce mentality.” There are always people to turn to during a crisis, including a parish priest. Do it for the sake of your spouse, your children and your soul.